Padre Pellegrino and Padre Pio

In the light of St Pio’s recent exhumation, here is a picture of the Italian friar, Fr Pellegrino Funicelli OFM Cap, pictured in Medjugorje during the summer of 2007, who was closely connected with the great saint. In fact, it was Fr Pellegrino who assisted Padre Pio on the day he died and heard his last confession.

Here is an extract from the book Padre Pio, written by the Capuchin priest Fr John Schug, which describes the last days of the saint’s death and the role of Fr Pellegrino.

Padre Pio foretold his death nine years before he died. He told Pietruccio, his blind friend, that he would die in his eighty-second year. When he died, he was three months into his eighty-second year.

In 1959, when the new church at San Giovanni Rotondo was dedicated, a lady from Naples approached Padre Pio, very distressed. She felt certain that the blessing of the new church was an omen of his death. “No,” he reassured her, “I’ll die when they bless the crypt.”

The crypt to which he referred was a room which had been excavated beneath the sanctuary of the church to serve as Padre Pio’s tomb.

One day, Padre Romolo sprang a question on Padre Pio: “Are you afraid of death?” Padre Pio reflected for a moment. Then he said, almost flippantly: “No.” He had been praying for his death all his life.

Several times, during the last three years of his life, he seemed to be at death’s door. His health had deteriorated, and the bleeding of all his wounds had begun to lessen. He no longer came to the dining room for any meals. He moved about less. Priests and Brothers were assigned to care for him around the clock. They always kept the intercom turned on, and, as his health ebbed, they remained with him in his room.

On July 7, 1968, his physical health collapsed and although he recovered, his strength was never the same. Often he was unable to offer Mass. He preferred to be alone. When he couldn’t work, he spent his whole day in his room, in prayer.

Call it coincidence, but the weekend of his death thousands of visitors were in San Giovanni Rotondo to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of his stigmata, the blessing of the Monumental Way of the Cross, the blessing of the crypt and the official recognition of his Prayer Groups by the Vatican.

Friday, September 20, 1968 was the fiftieth anniversary of Padre Pio’s stigmata. Fifty precious vases with deep red roses given by his spiritual children almost blanketed the altar, the sanctuary and the side balconies of the church. He offered Mass as usual at 5:00am and the church was full. In the afternoon, he participated in the recitation of the rosary and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

On Saturday, September 21, 1968 he had a very bad attack of bronchial asthma, together with tachycardia (racing heart), cold sweating, labial cyanosis (his lips turned blue), and a decrease in arterial pressure. He was treated and later in the morning he was able to sit on the veranda and pray. He was lively and smiling with Padre Onorato and his doctor.

Later in the afternoon, Padre Pio attended the rosary service and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament in the church, but he spent most of his day in his room.

On Sunday, September 22, 1968, Padre Pio did not think he had the strength to offer Mass. The church was jammed with pilgrims from all over the world. He walked to the altar and not only celebrated Mass, he sang it, along with two assistants. He coughed and gasped for breath, but that was common enough. There was no special reason for alarm. His voice was a bit shaky, but in general it was as vigorous as ever. At Mass he gave First Holy Communion to a boy and two girls.

Suddenly, after the blessing at the end of Mass, he collapsed. The crowd gasped and surged forward as far as the Communion rail. His brethren, always at his side, caught him. Within a few moments, while still standing at the altar he recovered. He turned around to leave the altar and accepted the offer of a wheelchair which someone had hastily brought into the sanctuary. As he was wheeled away, he looked back to the people in the church and stretched out his arms as though he wanted to embrace them. He was heard to murmur: “My children, my children.”

He made his thanksgiving as usual in the sacristy, and then started into the church to hear the confessions of the women. But he had to turn back. He returned to his room. On the way he stopped at the choir window and blessed the crowd in the piazza beneath him. Later that afternoon, he heard the confessions of only a few men.

After an 8:00am Mass that representatives from as many as 726 Prayer Groups had attended, the crypt was blessed. A little after 10:00am, Padre Pio again came to the choir window and blessed his people. He had to be held up by two friars.

In the afternoon, he sat up in his chair in the sun parlor near his room. When the bell sounded for Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament at 4:30pm, he responded immediately. It was to be his last Benediction. He was weak and in pain, but he remained until the end. After Benediction, Padre Pio again blessed the people who crowded beneath his window. He then retired to bed.

That Sunday evening, at 9:00pm, Padre Pio summoned Padre Pellegrino on the intercom. Padre Pellegrino found him in tears. All Padre Pio wanted to know was the time. Five or six times after that, between 9:00pm and midnight, he kept calling Padre Pellegrino. His eyes were red from weeping. He kept on asking what time it was. Still, there was no special reason to be alarmed at his condition.

At midnight, Padre Pio again summoned Padre Pellegrino and begged him to stay with him. “He was like a frightened child,” Padre Pellegrino said. “His eyes were begging me, his hands clenched mine.”

Padre Pio asked him, “My son, did you offer Mass yet?” Padre Pellegrino patiently repeated that it was too early.

“Well,” Padre Pio responded, “this morning you will offer it for me.” Then he insisted on going to confession. At the end, he said: “My son, if the Lord calls me today, ask my brethren to forgive me for all the trouble I have caused them, and ask my brethren and my spiritual children to pray for my soul.” Padre Pellegrino reached for words with which to answer him. “Father,” he said, “I am sure that the Lord will let you live for a long time yet, but if you are right, may I ask you for a last blessing for the brethren, for the spiritual children and for your patients?”

“Yes,” Padre Pio agreed. “I bless them all. Ask the superior to give them this last blessing for me.”

Then he asked Padre Pellegrino to recite the words of his religious profession, his vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. He repeated them word for word: “I, Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, vow and promise to Almighty God, to the Blessed Virgin Mary, to our holy Father St. Francis, to all the saints and to you, Father, to observe all the days of my life, the Rule of the Friars Minor, confirmed by our Pope Honorius, and living in obedience, without property and in chastity.” Padre Pellegrino answered with the usual words: “And I, on the part of God, if you observe these things, promise you everlasting life.”

He was having trouble breathing and about 1:30 a.m., Padre Pio asked to get out of bed and exchanged his pajamas for his Franciscan habit and walked into the sum parlor next door. To Padre Pellegrino’s amazement, he walked with the step of a young man. Padre Pio turned on the light and sat down. Five minutes later, he wanted to get up again and return to his room. This time he could not stand by himself. He was lifted into his wheelchair and returned to his room.

Padre Pio sat down in the armchair. “I see two Mothers,” he said. Then a strange pallor spread over his face and beads of sweat formed on his brow. His breathing became labored. His lips turned livid. He kept repeating,: “Gesú, Maria,” but with an ever weakening voice.

Padre Pellegrino realized that his Spiritual Father was in trouble, but when he began to leave the room for help, Padre Pio tried to stop him and told him not to call anyone. He decided to go anyway. The other friars came and his doctor arrived within ten minutes. They gave him an injection for severe asthma. He kept repeating, “Jesus, Mary,” but his voice almost trailed away.

With his doctors and the Capuchin priests and brothers at his side, Padre Paolo administered the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. The doctor gave him oxygen. The Capuchins recited the prayers for the dying.

He was still conscious and calm. But his features had become waxen. His hands and feet were cold. His pulse weakened. He bent his head slightly to the left and closed his eyes.

“At half past two,”” according to Dr. Gusso, “the clinical signs of death, the most peaceful and sweet I have ever seen, were present.” His other doctor, Dr. Sala described those final moments, “With an imperceptible turn of the head to the right and a weak sigh, Padre Pio, his face distended, pale, bloodless, his lips slightly parted, like a little bird, died.”

Those who stayed with Padre Pio after his death saw that the stigmata had completely disappeared! Not even a scar remained. Only a red mark as if drawn by a red pencil remained on his side. Then that, too, disappeared.



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